There was anger, frustration and sadness, but no mayhem and very little vandalism.
Hundreds of protesters took to Oakland’s streets on Sunday to express outrage over the release of ex-BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle from a Los Angles County jail today after serving 11 months of a two-year sentence for the killing of Oscar Grant III.
Police presence was strong as protesters marched 3.5 miles from the Fruitvale BART station to Oakland City Hall. During the march, in which a mock coffin was carried, the crowd peacefully chanted, “We are Oscar Grant!” and carried signs such as “216 days is not enough for justice.”
Mesherle, 29, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting Grant, 22, in the back as he lay face down on the platform at Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Day 2009. The killing of the unarmed black man by the white Mesherle spurred protests — some violent — in Oakland. Following Mehserle’s sentencing last year, some of those involved in a protest became violent — looting, setting fires and causing mayhem for hours.
During Sunday’s peaceful protest, organizers continuously asked for calm as the crowd and emotions increased. Several businesses were boarded up in anticipation of unrest, while a few with Grant’s likeness on their windows remained open.
Grant’s family attorney, John Burris, urged the crowd to remain peaceful as they exercised their freedom of speech.
“There’s still an opportunity for all of us to continue our sense of outrage, our sense of frustration at the [criminal justice] system and do what we can through public speaking, through organizing, community involvement to continue his legacy,” Burris said.
At City Hall, an open mic session allowed people to vent their outrage and frustration.
“Nothing short of a rebellion will change the system,” said Opi Santos, 23, of Oakland, adding that people are the solution.
Grant’s uncle, Darryl Johnson, thanked demonstrators for their continued support.
“A crime was committed, but it wasn’t paid for. This needs to stop and the only way it’s going to stop is if we stand together,” Johnson said.
After the two-hour open mic session ended at about 7 p.m., organizers encouraged the crowd of various races and ages to peacefully disperse.
There was only one arrest, according to Oakland police, for graffiti on a building along the route. Earl Harper, owner of Urban Sheild Private Security, said the protest was peaceful and a success. He said his company was hired by organizers to help keep the protest under control and the event was a success.
“We maintained the rally and it was not necessary for the police to interfere,” he said.
Grant supporters in both Oakland and Los Angeles plan to march today to their respective U.S. Attorneys’ offices and demand that the Department of Justice look into possible federal civil rights violation.
Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, has declined to comment on his client’s pending release. Rains recently said in published reports that Mehserle is ready to move on with his life.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.